Mark Haysom, is the author of ‘Love, Love Me Do’ and ‘Imagine’. In his monthly Blog, he attempts to make sense of the world for his grandson – and for himself. Theo was eight months old when this was written.
Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that I’d lived in too many places for any house to ever truly feel like home.
Let me explain.
People say that home is where your heart is; there’s no place like it; it’s your castle. They say these and many other things about home and all of them, I’m sure, are more or less true.
But for me, ‘home’ is a word freighted with wonder and tinged with regret. It has always meant something more, something else: home is an idea, an idea about permanence and belonging.
And, back then, when I reached my conclusion, that was my problem.
Because when you’d moved as often I had, stayed nowhere very long – when there were 27 places you had blithely called ‘home’ along the way – permanence was frankly an alien and elusive concept.
And I couldn’t possibly claim to belong anywhere; I was an urban nomad, adept at fitting into new environments, new circumstances, but forever an outsider looking in.
Not that I was complaining, you understand. Not really. Because it was my choice – and I knew I couldn’t have it both ways.
You see, for so much of my life, I’d been driven on by a great restless adventure. I went wherever my newspaper career took me, pursuing a zigzag trail of opportunity from one town or city to the next. It was who I was; what I was.
I followed an unlikely road. It led from university in Leicester to London, Grimsby, Scunthorpe, London again, Buckinghamshire, Cardiff, Birmingham, London yet again … I could go on. And on. I won’t.
Each time I moved, I was aware, of course, of what I was missing out on – that sense of permanence, that feeling of belonging – but the compensations to be found were in discovering the next new place, getting to know it, to understand it a little.
And it’s not to say that wherever it was that I was living at any moment in time didn’t have the trappings of being a home. Far from it; I always made sure that it did.
It is, I think, a deep-rooted human impulse to create a secure and welcoming place for ourselves wherever we are, as quickly as we can. And part of this, in the modern world, is to surround ourselves with those familiar objects, precious possessions, personal treasures we have accumulated over the years. We need our things around us to make us feel safe.
With me, this impulse became entrenched early and assumed a particular form.
Whenever we moved house when I was a small boy – and we moved frequently – there were two tasks I carried out alone and with the solemn urgency of a ritual.
The first was to seek out my new room, unpack my few books and arrange them on whatever shelves I could find. I would then set about covering the walls with photographs of footballers cut carefully from the pages of the boyhood bible that was Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly.
Until my walls were covered and the books were around me, I couldn’t rest easy. It was, I suppose, my way of claiming each new place, attempting to make it my own. It created the illusion of permanence in a world I knew was impermanent. It made it recognisable. Safe.
Given this beginning, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that both the impulse and the ritual have remained largely unaltered ever since.
In all of my many subsequent house moves, all has not been entirely right between me and the world until the books have been unpacked and the walls dressed. The illusion of permanence renewed.
There are, I should point out, certain aspects of the ritual that have changed a little through the years.
For one thing, it takes longer: more rooms, more walls to cover. And more books.
In truth, the quantity of books has reached alarming proportions. For years I could never bring myself to part with even the most tattered paperback and – though I have now trained myself to do so, grudgingly – we need a separate room to house them.
And, of course, I have put away some childish things. Charles Buchan’s footballers were replaced long ago: at university by the inevitable Dali and Che Guevara posters, later by an ever-expanding collection of paintings, prints and lithographs.
But, as I say, the impulse remains the same. And it has the same urgency.
I know it’s irrational – and I have at least learnt to delay until the more practical and imperative tasks are complete: the kitchen cupboards stocked, the washing machine plumbed, the bed erected and made – but all the while, somewhere nagging in my mind are the books waiting impatiently for me in their boxes and the bubble-wrapped pictures stacked in the corner.
‘What about the books and the pictures?’ I ventured tentatively amidst the jumble and exhaustion of our last house move.
‘They’re not a priority,’ my wife said gently, wearily.
‘Of course not,’ I agreed, feeling it like a dagger to my heart.
Let me begin again.
Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that I’d lived in too many places for anywhere to ever truly feel like home.
But I was wrong.
There is a poem by the extraordinary David Whyte. In it he says:
‘This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.’
Four years ago, my wife and I found our bright home in our bright city. Even as we explored the city streets, we felt it. And we knew it with unshakeable certainty as we walked through the front door for the first time of the house that was to become ours.
This is where we wanted to be. This place, no other.
And living here these four years has confirmed what I always suspected. Home is not just a place, a house: it’s a state of mind, of heart.
It has been a long zigzag road to finally find it, to reach my place of permanence, of belonging.
David Whyte says:
‘There is no house
like the house of belonging.’
And he’s right, Theo. He’s right.
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